Originally founded in St. Louis amidst performances presented by ANNONYArts, director Ashley McQueen relocated Smashworks to New York City in 2015. After three years of company development, McQueen joined forces with friend Ana Lejava to launch Smashworks Advocacy, an initiative dedicated to the integration of human rights activism and performance.
Director of Smashworks Advocacy
Born and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia Ana Lejava is a New York City-based dancer, choreographer, teaching artist and social entrepreneur. She received her early classical ballet training at the Tbilisi V. Chabukiani State Ballet Art School, under the artistic director, Nina Ananiashvili, where her first ballet teacher was Georgian ballet icon and the niece of George Balanchine, Tsiskari Balanchivadze. She continued her training and later graduated from the Kirov Academy of Ballet under the mentorship of Oleg Vinogradov and Marat Daukayev. She was a member of Atlantic City Ballet, and has toured the States with the full-length classical ballets, such as Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and works by Frederick Ashton and other prominent choreographers. She has guest performed for the Brighton Ballet Theater, Staten Island Ballet, Alabama Youth Ballet Company, and Georgian National Dance Company.
Ana has been teaching and choreographing for the School of Russian American Ballet in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan for the past four years. She is actively involved with the dance education across the city and has been producing productions for the New York City public schools. Ana acquired her additional training at the Limon Institute, where she had an opportunity to perform classics by Jose Limon, and dive deeply into the traditions and aesthetic of American modern dance.
Ana has a bachelor's degree in Dance and Political Science from the Birmingham-Southern College and has received BSC’s Fine Arts Society Award for Excellence in Dance. She has graduated college with Magna Cum Laude, political science and leadership studies honors.
Along with her dancing career, Ana has worked for the intergovernmental and human rights organizations, including the United Nations on the human rights, cultural and social issues. She served as a Young Ambassador of Georgia to the United States for the 2016 and 2017 years, working closely with the members of the Georgian diaspora, promoting cultural exchange amongst the youth. She has initiated and led charity performance series for the Internally Displaced Children and Youth in the Bordering Villages of the South Ossetia, (Georgia) and has been passionate about helping refugee children and the youth.
She is happy to be joining Smashworks Dance Collective as a fellow performer and leading its Community Action efforts. She firmly believes in the transformative nature of the arts and is looking forward to working with the Smashworks' team to address important social justice and human rights issues through dance.
Laurie was raised in a village called Saint-Mathieu-du-Parc in Quebec, Canada. She trained at L’École de danse contemporaine de Montréal and The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She is a scholarship graduate of the Professional Training Program at The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance where she worked alongside Graham II and performed at The Martha Graham Company’s 90th Anniversary Season at the New York City Center. Laurie was a soloist for the Balasole Dance Company’s season MIXTUS presented at the Ailey CitiGroup Theatre. She is currently a company member of Smashworks Dance Collective, SHIFT Dance. Arts. & Media and Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre. She has performed works by American choreographers Martha Graham, José Limón, Roberto Villanueva, Jennifer Conley and Canadian choreographers Christopher House, Sharon B. Moore, Darryl Tracy, Julia Sasso and Allison Plamondon. During her free time, Laurie enjoys delving into a good book, cooking, biking and yoga.
Sarah Dodd hails from Syracuse, NY and recently graduated from the University at Buffalo where she earned a BFA in Dance. In her training, Sarah has attended Bates Dance Festival and performed works by Hilary Easton, Shen Wei Dance Arts, Robert Battle, Jennifer Archibald, and Koresh Dance Company. Sarah also presented choreography at the SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference and represented the school at the ACDA Northeastern Conference. Since her move to the city, Sarah has performed and continued to work with Smashworks Dance Collective and Now Dance Project.
Maria Gardner grew up in Warren, OH and graduated from Point Park University, where she earned a B.A. in dance in 2015. There, she performed works created by Dwight Rhoden, Terence Marling, Brian Enos, and danced for contemporary dance company, fireWALL Dance Theater. Maria also augmented her training by participating in Movement Invention Project, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Gallim Dance. Since graduation, Maria attended two consecutive summers at Springboard Danse Montréal, where she performed works by Aszure Barton & Artists, Le Carré des Lombes and Shumpei Nemoto. Upon moving to New York City, she has had the pleasure of working with LoudHoundMovement, Cameron McKinney / Kizuna Dance, and FLUSSO Dance Project. She currently dances with Bodystories: Teresa Fellion Dance, Shawnbibledanceco., Inclined Dance Project, and Smashworks Dance Collective.
Manon Hallay was born in France. She started dancing in the Conservatoire de Tarbes and went to Bordeaux at 13 to study in a pre-professional course. Two years later she has been accepted to the Royal Ballet School of Antwerpen and had the opportunity to work with choreographer as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui or Micheal Shannon. She moved out to New-York 5 years ago to integrate the Alvin Ailey school as a scholarship student. She is now dancing for several dance company including Amanda Selwyn Dance Theater, Smashworks Dance, and Les Ballets Nomades.
Jesse Obremski, a native New Yorker, graduated from LaGuardia High School (2012) and The Juilliard School (2016) and has trained at The Ailey School, Earl Mosley's Institute of the Arts, Jacob's Pillow's Contemporary Program, and Springboard Danse Montréal. Obremski, an Eagle Scout Rank recipient, Jadin Wong Dance Awardee (2016), and Interview En L'air’s "Dancer to Watch" (2017), has performed with Diversity of Dance, Brian Brooks Moving Company, WHITE WAVE, Buglisi Dance Theatre, Kate Weare Company, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, and is a principal dancer with The Limón Dance Company (since 2016). Jesse also recently was a guest artist with Gibney Dance Company in 2018.
Jesse has taught masterclasses at Montclair State University, The University of Hawaii at Manoa, The University of Wyoming, LaGuardia High School and is on faculty for The Limón Foundation, Diversity of Dance, and MOVE(NYC) among others. Recently, Obremski has staged an excerpt of José Limón’s Chaconne on MOVE(NYC) in 2018 as well as assisted in the staging of Limón’s work at The Juilliard School from 2015-2018. Obremski's choreography has been presented by Battery Dance Festival, Arts on Site, DUMBO Dance Festival, Dixon Place, The Juilliard School's Choreographic Honors Showcase and he has been commissioned for new creations by Diversity of Dance, The University of Wyoming, and Brigham Young University.
Jesse is excited to be a part of his third season with Smashworks Dance! www.jesseobremski.com and Instagram: @Jesse_Obremski
Sarah Starkweather is a dancer and fitness professional living in New York City. Since 2009, Sarah has performed over 100 times with professional dance companies from Texas, Missouri, and New York. Sarah has worked with choreographers such as Jennifer Archibald, Amanda Selwyn, Liz Imperio, Ashle Dawson, Mitzi Adams, Ashley L. Tate, Jennifer Medina, and Ashley McQueen. Sarah holds a BA in Psychology from The University of Texas at San Antonio during which time she also began her classical training with Catalina Garza, Ernesto Quenedit and Esther Mayer of The Cuban National and Royal Ballet, respectively. Sarah is a founding member of the San Antonio Dance Fringe, and continues to teach technical and leadership workshops across the United States through MA Dance, for whom she also adjudicates regional and national dance competitions. Sarah has been a certified fitness trainer since 2014 and currently teaches group fitness classes for Equinox.
Dunya Habash, Advocacy Associate
Dunya Habash completed an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford in 2017 and is currently working as a researcher at the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, UK. She also worked as a research assistant for Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford. She holds undergraduate degrees in Music and History from Birmingham-Southern College, where she embarked on her first substantive project with Syrian refugees, a documentary on Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, 'Zaatari: Jordan's Newest City'. That work led her to the programme in Refugee Studies at Oxford and a TEDx talk in Birmingham, AL. Dunya is excited to join the Smashworks family as a senior consultant on refugee and migration issues, which combines her passion for art and advocacy in relation to pressing social issues.
Consultant on Refugee and Migration Issues works directly with the Smashworks Advocacy team and advises it on its Smashing Borders’ campaign strategy and programming. She is responsible for monitoring our advocacy efforts by providing research on issues relating to the human rights of refugees and migrants, including legal representation, detention, U.S. asylum law and policy, international refugee protection and resettlement policies, as well as academic research and polling data, describing trends in public opinion towards migrants and refugees.